Monday, November 28, 2011

Pilates next to Northampton-Amherst Rail Trail: Taking Movement Education the Extra Mile.

As Pilates Instructors we’ve all seen it.  We have seen the posture that improved during a Pilates session melt away as the client is scheduling the next session…Luckily, the Pilates Studio is located conveniently to a bike path that is great for what I call the walk for integration. When people come to The Pilates Studio, it is not to exercise for exercise sake.  Throughout the session movement patterns are changing.  Yet the most challenging part of the session happens afterwards when a client works to keep the new patterns active in his/her everyday life.  The best way to do this is to take a walk that allows the new movement patterns to integrate into the body.  Hopefully this walk happens before the car ride away from the studio.  Hopefully, it can be a walk that’s only goal is movement.  Taking ten minutes to feel how the body moves differently after a session allows new neural pathways to create learned movement patterns.  The effect of these patterns makes the thought required for good posture less conscious. Thus in the hectic part of life when the last thing a person has time to think about is the pelvic floor engagement on the exhale, everything’s okay. 

This brings me to one of the many reasons I love to go to work.  The Pilates Studio is located just off of the Norwottuck Rail Trail.  The Norwottock Rail Trail is an 11 mile path linking Northampton, Hadley, and Amherst along the former Boston & Main Railroad right-of-way.” On any given day, this trail is filled with bikers, runners, walkers, strollers, and everytime I’ve been on it, people are smiling.  It allows the community to move without fear of traffic.  It creates alternative ways to commute between communities.  And it provides the perfect opportunity for a walk for integration after a great Pilates Session.  The Pilates Studio is committed to its community and the Norwottuck Rail Trail is one of the many reasons why!

Katrina Hawley C.M.A., R.S.M.E

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pilates in Western Massachusetts prepares the Rotator Cuff for Wyoming wind.


I have traveled home for the holiday.  I am settling into my mom’s home cooking, I have seen and spent quality times with three of my four nephews, and I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of my sister’s family.  All in all it has been a good two days.  The weather is everything that can be expected from Wyoming weather.  It’s cold and windy.  The wind in Wyoming is different than the wind in Western Massachusetts.  It is the kind of wind that causes bodies to hinge forward in the hopes that the blunt force of the skull can pierce through the wall of the wind, or if one is lucky to be walking with the wind at the back and she opens her arms out to the side, it feels like she might just float into the air.  In Wyoming, it is so windy that if one flippantly opens the car door without awareness of the wind that car door might just open so far and so fast that it takes the arm and person with it.  There is a technique to opening car doors in the wind, it is bred into Wyomingites deeply.  Today as I was opening the door, I was reminded of this technique. I felt the force of the wind grab the door and pull it open with great force.  I felt my arm straighten and I felt my body begin to go along with the door.  Then it all came back to me.  Of course I should have parked on the other side of the building and opened the door with a little more care, but it was too late for that.  In that moment I had to get the car door shut!  Well thank goodness for Pilates and the shoulder strengthening exercises that allowed me to engage my latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior, and rotator cuff.  Not only did these muscles keep my shoulder from dislocating (You may think I’m being dramatic but until you experience Wyoming wind you won’t know the power of it) these muscles also allowed me to overcome the force of the wind, pull the door shut and drive to the other side of the building where it was a little easier to open the door.

And thus, the inspiration for this blog post.  How did the strength from my shoulder save it in the Wyoming wind?

Well first let’s talk about the anatomy of the shoulder.  Often when talking about the shoulder joint people only imagine the point at which the humerus (upper arm) connects with the scapula (shoulder blade).  In actuality there are three joints that make up the shoulder. We must also consider the place where the scapula connects with the clavicle (collar bone) and also where the clavicle connects to the sternum (breast bone).  In essence when we are talking about maintaining a full range of motion at the shoulder joint we are actually alluding to three joints that work together to create this motion. 

Held the upper arm in the socket on the shoulder blade
allowed shoulder blade to move away from body
There are also many muscular connections that are important within the shoulder girdle.  These relationships require balance for efficient movement and support.  If we think back to the car door that whipped open taking me and my body with it, a great amount of effort was required in my shoulder.  First several muscles had to call upon their individual flexibility so that they could allow my shoulder blade to follow my arm out into space. The flexibility of these muscles allowed my shoulder blade to move away from my ribcage.  This flexibility is balanced by the strength of my rotator cuff, which held my humerus solidly in the socket that is located on the shoulder blade.  Thus no shoulder dislocation took place (YAY!) 

big muscles that were called upon to shut the door
Then from this position came the retraction (getting the car door shut again).  All of the muscles that were pulled to the extent of their flexibility needed to be contracted to connect the shoulder blade back to the ribcage.  Then because the arm bone was connected solidly to the shoulder blade (thank you very much rotator cuff) the arm was in a perfect position to call on the strength of the biceps and the lattisimus dorsi and all of the myo fascial connections in between to pull the door to a close. Thus, the car door did not fly off into the wind. (Double YAY!)

Phew!  In the instant my brain was busy swearing (in front of my mom actually eek!), but my body knew what to do and against the odds the car door was shut…I am grateful to the lat pulls on the trap table and the lat pulls on the springboard, and especially grateful for safe functional strength training.   On this holiday, I am tipping my hat to families, great time spent, and of course the Wyoming wind!  Happy Thanksgiving from The Pilates Studio in Hadley!

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E
Co-director The Pilates Studio

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sarah Prall Photography visits the Pilates Studio

Giving Direction
Sarah at Work!!!!
Laurie exercising organizational control
What fun we had yesterday afternoon.  Sarah Prall Photography came to the studio and took pictures for the website.  You might imagine that this wouldn't be fun.  Holding positions for a long time, looking authentic, creating photos that would bring people to the studio...But I have to admit that it has been awhile since I laughed as hard as I did yesterday, and I owe it all to Sarah Prall fabulous photographer extraordinaire.

The link above takes you to Sarah's website where she so eloquently writes about her passion for her work.  She tells stories with her photos, and upon meeting Sarah I knew she was the photographer for us!

When Laurie and I first bought the studio we started doing market research and this meant that we looked at a lot of studio websites with perfect bodies doing pilates.  The thing is Laurie and I wanted to tell a different story.  When we were purchasing the studio we had both been there for ten years and the reason we wanted to buy the studio is that we love the people who come.  We love watching the friendships form.  We wanted to tell the story of the community of the studio.  Pilates is great, but there is so much more to Pilates than the beautiful bodies it creates...We wanted to capture that.  When we first met Sarah, her first question was, "What do you love about this studio?"  And the rest is history...Enjoy the following photos of the "process" of a photo shoot.

Notice the smiles on the faces the laughter in the air...Sarah created this environment of joy for us and we couldn't be more grateful!  I can't wait to see her photos and the story that they have captured!

Each scene Sarah created involved a conversation about what we wanted
So many of my favorite people in the same place at once


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Vitamin D at the Pilates Studio in Hadley

In case you missed it, on Tuesday Night The Pilates Studio in Hadley once again hosted Dr. Allison Willette, and in our effort to keep abreast of the latest science we asked her to speak to us about vitamin D, and it’s importance!  It is always fun to see Dr. Willette speak, she makes bio chemistry accessible and is able to boil down a lot of complicated information into take home information that is useful and complete.

She started with what is vitamin D? 

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin as opposed to a water-soluble vitamin.  Its most common avenue into the body is through the sun.  Other fat-soluble vitamins are A E and K.   Dr. Willette’s explanation of fat versus water soluble vitamins helped me understand why it is easier through supplementation to overdose on some vitamins and not others….Water is constantly moving through our bodies and thus an excess of vitamin C for example leaves the body through the urine, but fat soluble vitamins remain in the fat stores of our body and can accumulate if too many supplements are taken. 

Ok now back to Vitamin D – First of all in the medical field there is great variation on what constitutes too much vitamin D or too little vitamin D, and she made the point of saying that the easiest way for a person to understand his/her vitamin D levels is through a blood test and with the help of a practitioner to choose what supplements might be needed. 

Who is at risk for Vitamin D deficiency?
·      Elderly -  Aging skin is less likely to absorb vitamin D from the sun
·      Dark skinned people – Skin pigmentation in darker skin requires three times the sun exposure than lighter skin.
·      Fat malabsorption issues - if a person has any fat absorption problems then vitamin D is not able to be absorbed into the body (gallbladder problems is one example)
·      Heavy - Vitamin D stores in fat reserves, and extra fat locks it away.
·      Chronic Illness/Cancer –
·      Kids -
·      Pregnant/Nursing -
·      Northern geography – The population that lives above 35N latitude has much less UVB and time with the sun

Ok Vitamin D is important how much sun do I need!
15-30 minutes in direct sun 3 times per week is enough time to get Vitamin D, but this has to be time spent outdoors with the arms and legs exposed.  The sun that passes through the windows only contains UVA rays and a person needs UVB rays to get vitamin D.  Direct sunlight is necessary.

Ok so I am not getting enough sun what is the best supplement?
The best supplement should be oil based, and contain Vitamin D3, however this presents a problem for anybody that is vegetarian or vegan because vitamin D3 is only found in animals.  However there are D2 supplements on the market that are plant based.

Can I get Vitamin D through food?
Fatty fish like salmon are a great source.  Canned salmon contains more vitamin D than raw sushi salmon.   Portabella mushrooms are a great source for vegetarians and vegans, as well as other foods that are fortified with vitamin D.  Fish Oil is also a great source. 

How do I know if my vitamin D is too low?
A blood test is the best way to check Vitamin D Levels.  In a blood test they check the blood for 25(OH)D.  Dr. Willette prefers that people run between 60-80 ng/ml on a blood test. 

Dr. Willette also laid out a general system for supplementation.
Step I:  Blood Test to check levels
Step II:  To raise levels supplement 1000IUs for each 25 pounds of body weight.  For example a 200-pound man shall take 8000IU of D3.
Step III: After eight weeks, check levels.  Monitoring is important when supplementing vitamin D.

I love it when Dr. Willette speaks at the studio, she is a wealth of knowledge, but she shares the philosophy of the studio that health is achieved when a person is empowered to be a part of the process.  I see people coming out of her office with their homework in hand, ready to change their lives!

If you have a question for Dr. Willette, please participate in our Ask Allison program.  Follow this link and send us your questions, and enjoy reading the questions that have already been answered.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Core Strength Part I: What is the Core anyway?

 One won’t be surprised to see how many websites come to the surface when a person types core strength into the google search engine.  It’s the fitness buzzword these days.  This core strength phenomenon brings forth several questions for me.  First, what is the core?  Second, what’s the best way to add functional strength to the core? And finally, if strength in the core of the body is so important, and we work under the assumption that efficient movement is what the body will choose above all else, then why is the core so weak in the first place?  The following will be an answer to that first question, and then in subsequent blog posts we will explore answers to the others.

I LOVE the Psoas Still!
This first question is fun for me, because my own personal definition of the core has evolved over the years…At first to me the core was clearly the abdominals, and could be strengthened by doing “crunches.” (You should have seen me crank them out!!!) Then as my education developed I learned about the multiple layers of the abdominals and thus I added oblique abdominal “crunches” to my core strength protocol…Then I learned about the psoas, which is not an abdominal muscle at all and my whole view of the core changed. (If there were a soundtrack to this blog post, this would be the moment when bells start ringing) I was about 22 at the time.  I remember walking the streets of New York thinking about the Psoas and the way it swings the leg in the gait and supports the upright posture of the spine.  At this point, the Psoas was definitely the most important muscle of the core!!!!!! (The exclamation points are meant to signify the tenacity with which a 22-year-old anatomy geek can latch onto an idea and promote it as the TRUTH OF THE WORLD!) 

Great picture of Transverse as well as Definition I - below
As my training continued I had another “aha” moment when I discovered in my own body the transverse abdominals.  This is the deepest abdominal layer with muscle fibers on the side of the waist, but learning about the transverse abdominals was also my very first introduction to the importance of fascia…(here come the soundtrack bells again) When I look back I was learning about fascia all along but it was at this point that all of the pieces seemed to fit together.  I learned of the word Gestalt .  Our bodies are a system of relationships that work together to make us whole…one cannot talk about the core as just the abdominals, or just the psoas, or just the transverse abdominal fascia.  To really define the core of the body one has to study the relationships between these muscles.  Also when we consider the infinite variation these relationships can manifest in the body, it also becomes absurd to think that there is just one way or even a best way to strengthen the core. I may have been 24 or 25 when this kicked in, and my mind was blown!

However, while sharing a large part of my geekiness with you, I have yet to answer the question posed?  What is the Core?  In my work, I find myself vacillating between a few different theories or definitions, depending on an individual client’s needs.  Often people come to me and say I need to strengthen my core, and I respond with, “Why?” Core strength is important, but everyone comes to the studio with a different goal that “core strength” will achieve. These goals help me decide how to work with each person.

Core Definition I – I use this when I work with a client who comes to me and says, “I need to strengthen my core to relieve back pain.”

According to this definition, the core is the transverse abdominals, pelvic floor, multifidi, and (depending on who you talk to) the diaphragm (see picture above).  When working with this part of the core, the client’s goal is lumbo-pelvic stability.  This person wants to have strength and stability in the core so that she can go about daily living without fear of a spasm or slipped disc.  When working with this definition I find myself using the cues, “pull your belly to your spine, smile with your belly button, zip up the front of your pelvis.” 

Core Definition II – I use this when I work with a client who comes to me and says, “I need to strengthen my core so that I have better posture.”

Quadruped position
Notice the Depth of the Front of the Spine
The core is the Deep Front Line – I base this definition on Tom Myers Anatomy Trains Theory.  When I studied with Tom he talked us through a quadruped exercise (the one that can be found in any Physical Therapist Office, as well as most yoga classes.) Yet, when Mr. Myers took us through this exercise he talked about the inside of the ankles, inside the back of the lower leg, the inner thighs, the pelvic floor, the psoas, the anterior longitudinal ligament, and the scalenes.  He didn’t ever say pull your belly to your spine. He didn’t even mention the belly, but as he was leading the class through this exercise the core of my being was engaged and the front of my spine was supported. 

This definition of the core allows people to think about their posture differently.  When a person is sitting and he begins to imagine the front of his spine, his posture improves, he grows, his spine becomes healthy… We often forget how central the spine is in this body.  The little bumps on your back are such a small part of the spine.   If we support the front of the spine our posture will be great without all of the effort.       

Definition III  -  I use this definition of the core when someone says to me, “I need to strengthen my core so that I can run faster, kick further, ski better…”

The Core is the Hamstrings, the Gluteus Medius, the Pelvic Floor, Low Abdominals, Psoas and Diaphragm.

Doing a series of abdominal exercises will strengthen the core, but it will do nothing for functional strength and performance improvement, if the core is not addressed along with kinetic chains in functional movement.  The abdominals and the psoas need to be strong if one wants to improve a stride because they pull the body forward, however, the diaphragm low abdominals
(internal obliques) and hamstrings are the balancing factors when working with this stride because they push from behind.  Full body movements that engage the core in function are going to be the core strengtheners that a person needs in this situation.      

Definition IV – I address this definition of the core when someone says, “I want to strengthen my core to relieve symptoms from my scoliosis”

Hardly symmetrical
To be quite frank, this is a new definition for me, and one that I am only in the beginning stages of learning, playing, and exploring.  It all started when I realized during my intakes that I say, “My training involved learning an awful lot about a perfectly symmetrical musculo-skeletal system of which I have never seen in real life.”  Well, it’s been ten years, why haven’t I seen this perfectly symmetrical person.  There’s got to be somebody right?  Well there’s not, and you want to know why.  Because we only have one heart and it’s one the left side (most of the time) and our liver is much larger than our stomach, we only have one colon and it changes sizes depending on what’s in it, and so on and so forth. 

How does the structure of our organs affect our musculo-skeletal system and of course the reverse can be true, how does the efficiency of movement in our musculo-skeletal system affect our organs.  And why is there all of this talk about core strength without a mention of our organs?  So in these explorations with clients we often use just the breath, try to roll, try to move without musculature, imagine our organs suspended in the pressure of the organ cavities. 

So there you have it…I still haven’t told you exactly what the core is, because for me it is constantly changing.  The body is such a mystery, and when we try to define this mystery in just one way, then we leave out so many possibilities.  So please, if you have other definitions of the core send them my way.  We can learn from each other as we all work to look at the same bodies with different eyes!

Katrina Hawley C.M.A, R.S.M.E
Co-owner The Pilates Studio